Reviews
Knack

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 3rd, 2014

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When the Playstation 4 hit the shelves, there were a few platform-exclusive titles that folks were anxious to play. SCE Japan Studio’s Knack was one such title. A brawler (with action, adventure and mild platforming), Knack presents the story of a smart doctor that creates and befriends a new life form which he names “Knack”. This adventure is incredibly fun and simply gorgeous – a worthy first-run title to show what the PS4 is capable of – to an extent.

Humankind has been reaping the rewards of an efficient energy source that has its roots in relics found in digs that revealed an ancient civilization. Unfortunately, the race of Goblins has declared war on humans, attacking where and when they can – growing bolder with each strike and demonstrating their own relic-powered war machines. A human doctor, who has spent a long time studying the fallen civilization, creates a new lifeform by binding several relics together around a mysterious core that he discovered during an expedition into an underground cavern. This creature, fully conscious and sentient, became known as Knack.

Knack has a series of fantastic abilities that makes him a strong ally in the fight against the Goblins. For one thing, Knack is able to absorb other relics, allowing him to increase in mass and volume – not to mention in strength (Knack loses relics when he gets hit). Normally small in stature (about the size of a child), Knack can grow to a massive size, giving him the ability to pound most enemies into the pavement with his bare hands, and pick up enemy tanks. The doctor allies himself with his assistant, an adventurer, and a wealthy innovator (who looks a lot like Tony Stark) to take the fight to the Goblins. As the game progresses, the doctor discovers that the Goblins might not even be the greatest threat to the well-being of humanity.

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Awwww! He’s so wee!

And so you set off, battling the evil Goblins (and other things). At the beginning of the game, the enemies are be relatively few in number, with some space in between them, allowing you to flex your muscles a bit. Eventually, of course, it gets a lot harder. A lot of the time, Knack’s ability to turn enemies into pancakes doesn’t quite cut the mustard with areas that are crawling with multiple assailants. Luckily, there are gems called “sunstones” that are spread throughout the levels. Smashing these fills up three round meters on the upper left corner of the screen. Once a meter is full, you can use one of Knack’s special abilities, which include Knack’s “relic tornado” that does constant damage while he can still pound things, and a ranged relic attack that shoots a charged group of relics over a distance, greatly damaging enemies.

Knack holds an interesting position in the gaming space. It’s not an over-complicated game, really. Knack, the main good guy, is pretty much limited to smashing the crap out of things. As I indicated earlier, there are mild platforming elements; and the platforming is mostly climbing and jumping. While the game is not “on rails”, it has a definite path, so you won’t be able to explore the landscape all that much – nor will you be able to grow as large as you want in certain levels, due to there being a set limit of relics lying around (a different amount in each level). I can understand the developers’ need for keeping the character corralled, as this is essentially a new property on a new platform – it would have been cool to be able to run amok in the city, though, and really see what the PS4 can do. That being said, you’ll be too busy contending with ne’er-do-wells for most of the time that you’ll spend playing the game. There are also a few twists in regards to Knack’s power that I don’t want to give away; suffice to say that Knack has a knack for gaining strength in an interesting way.

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Knack really let himself go!

Controls are intuitive and responsive with movement mapped to the left analog stick and dodging mapped to the right. Actions are mapped to the face buttons, which is not too bad – but it would have been more efficient to be able to simul-map some actions to the right shoulder buttons so that dodges and attacks could be stacked. The special moves can be hit-or-miss sometimes; while the sunstone meters might be showing full, you’ll need to be big enough (relic-wise) to pull off the attacks. Sadly, there were times when I landed an attack and then failed miserably, resulting in my death. I was immediately returned to one of the checkpoints, only to have my sunstone energy at exactly the same point that it was at when I had finished my recent poor attack. This isn’t that hard to deal with, as there are sunstones aplenty, and you can eventually fill them up (funny enough, dying a few times actually helps you do this fairly efficiently). However, it’s just a little bit annoying.

The visuals are definitely beautiful and vivid; however, at first glance, they don’t seem particularly groundbreaking – until you look a little bit closer. The environments are also detailed, and the many pieces that make up Knack each seem to hold their own texture, and independently react to the lighting. It’s pretty cool when Knack has to dodge, because all of the pieces seem to move in groups rather than all at once, giving the creature an almost liquid-like sense of movement. Knack also mixes game-play with cut-scenes quite well, offering a great sense of pace so that you don’t fall asleep in between action sequences. Audio is also really well done, with great directional mapping and some pretty good voice work. In the end, I thought that Knack could have been more visually impressive by making it more realistic – but doing so might have put the tone of the whole game at odds with itself, as the human and goblin characters look somewhat cartoonish.

I found that the story was charming on the whole; but it occasionally seemed to suffer from a lack of direction. At times Knack is painted as a hero – at others, a destructive force. I suppose he is kind of both; but I really wondered what the hell was going on with his characterization at times. The humans in the game also seem to suffer from some of their own hang-ups brought on by a wandering plot line. None of this is really that detrimental to the overall experience. That being said, it could have been a bit tighter.

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Thumbs up from the big guy.

Knack is a lot of fun to play. The variety of enemies is enough to keep you on your toes, and Knack’s attack level and speed are different depending on his size, giving an interesting twist to strategy that is not in most brawlers. In addition, throughout the game, there are hidden items that combine to make devices that can help you along in your quest. There are special unlockable alternate versions of Knack and a few extra game modes that can give re-playability a little bit of a charge.

Smallest Thumbs would join me occasionally with the game’s drop-in/drop-out co-operative local multi-player mode. The second player takes the form of a modular robot that also grows when certain enemies are taken down. This robot has the ability to help Knack recharge when he is running low on health by barfing out relic-like energy. It was definitely handy to have a partner in this adventure through some of the tougher moments. There are also reportedly social elements to the game in which other players in your friends list from the PSN can help you with the secret items – but it wasn’t obvious to me how to do this; this didn’t really matter as I found a fair amount of secret items on my own.

Knack is definitely a great launch title to have for the Playstation 4. It doesn’t push the platform as much as I would like, and it is rather single-minded in its game-play; however, it is engaging, colorful and is something that I plan on returning to in the future, both on my own and with my gaming partner. It doesn’t have the deepest story, but it is entertaining, and the interwoven cut-scenes work with the action to deliver a decent experience. I would recommend Knack to anyone – just keep in mind that the game is not a walk in the park. Some of the more difficult levels will test your patience, but playing with a friend locally will help you power through. For those of you who own an iOS device, there is a matching game (Knack’s Quest)that you can play that will help you unlock items in Knack when you link it with your PSN account.

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